Bethesda by the Sea

I am writing this in a church, which probably is not very reverent of me. It is the overnight watch, as Holy Thursday dissolves into Good Friday. The Easter Triduum. Apologies for my irreverence, and also for years of leading you astray, as I’ve told you for years now that lent, that somber season that leads to Easter, ends with the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. Well, that’s not true. It ends, I’ve learnt just tonight, with the Triduum of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. And so I apologize for years of misinformation.

While I’m pretty good with the secular stuff, I am certainly not your best source for liturgical information. Although I love churches (especially old ones), I have not been a very good churchgoer for a while now. My last time in a church was for Dad’s funeral mass last February, before lent even began, and not since last Easter before that. But I love ceremony and I love tradition, and I love this night. It was my grandma Assunta who taught us the tradition of visiting three churches on Holy Thursday, though three may have been a tradition of her own––visiting seven is more traditional, an Italian tradition coming out of the seven basilicas of Rome and the seven stations of the cross. But we do what we know and three is what I have always known. And there are meditations that we are supposed to reflect upon while we are in those churches. But me, I am a visitor. I like to visit and sit in the company of those I love, and so this is what I do here, too. It may be just me and a few other souls in this dark church tonight, but in my heart all the ones I love are with me, too. My whole family. No one is missing. This is especially important to me this year.

The doors of this church will remain unlocked through the night. The church is open this night because, in the Christian tradition, Jesus asks us to keep watch with him this night in his agony. He knows already what the day ahead will bring. And so we watch, we keep vigil. Just as I did with my dad, not that long ago. The candles are lit, the statues are covered. I sit with my thoughts, and I type these words. Irreverent or not, I’ve brought you all here with me, too. It seems right to me, it seems good, in a holy place where our hearts are open, and where they open further, that we should all be together, sustained by angels, for all our joys and sorrows.

Image: Outside the Church of Bethesda by the Sea in Palm Beach, in the courtyard, is this statue, which greets me each Holy Thursday on my journey. “Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda.”

19 thoughts on “Bethesda by the Sea

  1. Kathy Whalen says:

    You make a religion which is often silent for me, speak. I love how for you it is about a community of souls. It was a pleasure to be in those churches with you. Happy Easter.

  2. Judy Somers says:

    Thank you dear friend for sharing your thoughts and very touching perspective. As we all have had loved ones make their transition, we share the combination of joy and sorrow with you. And all rejoice in the community of loved ones – both earthly and spiritual. Joyous Easter Blessings to all.

  3. Monica says:

    Your writing conveys your reverence for many things and your love of your family , too. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Easter!

  4. Melanie says:

    Beautiful. Thank you, John.

  5. With family and friends for support we handle whatever life brings. May there be much more joy than sorrow for you and yours.

  6. Christina says:

    You took me back to the night I sat with my father. We’ll be marking the 20th anniversary of his death in Sept. Thank you for connecting those memories with the traditions of this beautiful time of year.

  7. Stacey says:

    In the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, I was taught the 40 days of Lent ended with the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Since Sunday’s are always Feast days (little Easters), they were not counted in the 40 days. But if you count the Sundays in, then Palm Sunday completes the 40 days and Holy Week is considered Passiontide.

    As I attended the Maundy Thursday liturgy last night, I was rather overwhelmed by the realization I am an orphan in my birth family (still have my husband, daughter, and in-laws). I was comforted by the sense of them being near me last night. I know grief comes in waves over time, but the first year is rougher in the sense that it is a year of firsts without the loved one. Just when you have healed a bit from the rawness, a holiday or special family event comes along and rips the scab off! I pray that the sense of your father’s presence continues to happen and that you find comfort in that. May it be a most blessed Easter for you and your family. Shalom. 🕊 Stacey

    • John Cutrone says:

      Perhaps there are different ways of counting the 40 days of lent, much as there are different ways of counting the Twelve Days of Christmas. I try not to get too hung up on what is proper… but I do value accuracy. All to say that I know there is further research to do on the matter, so I will do it.

      And I understand and relate now to the thoughts that overwhelmed you on Maundy Thursday. It is utterly strange to not have this presence in my life that was there for, well… all of it until now. But I do sense that present you mention and that comfort. Happy Easter, Stacey, to you and your family, too.

  8. Judith Klau says:

    Blessings on you John. Although our faith traditions are different, I think our sentiments are the same, calling up reverence, memory, and curiosity. On Saturday morning I will sing (at a Jewish Renewal Service) “You are loved with an unending love.” It is all comforting, all goodness, all the sweet notes you so eloquently sound. Love to you and Seth.

  9. Wayne L. Hornicek says:

    John…life-long Catholic, former priest, but “adrift” for years now, I had not remembered the “visit three church” tradition…during which we would admire the work of the church women who had assembled a tomb…rocks, trees, eventually lilies…all of this was the Lenten version of the Christmas crib scene. And as a grade schooler in the choir, we would march around the church carrying our candles, chanting in Polish (pardon the spelling), ” Sventy, sventy, sventy, pa mos da stem POOF”, the last word delivered with a force that blew out the candle…ah, the religious traditions we had. Thanks, Wayne

    • John Cutrone says:

      Thank you, Wayne. I’m going to ask our friend Walter, who is of Polish descent, if he knows that chant. It all sounds lovely. For better or worse, these are the thing I find most interesting about churches, and those scenes must be great sights to see. One of my favorite things to do after I leave each church during the Holy Thursday pilgrimage is to wander around the church grounds in the darkness. At St. Edward’s in Palm Beach there are always hundreds of Easter lilies hiding in a little-traveled corner of the walkway where the church meets the rectory, and I always wonder what the church women will be doing with them come the Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday. I’m sure it’s something spectacular.

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